Interview by Scott Preston
19 year old Emily Elbert is a singer/songwriter with deep musical roots and a love for creative expression. Her music has delighted audiences and music critics alike with her jazz-infused sound, which she describes as “acoustic soul-folk.” Fresh off a northeast run with G Love and Special Sauce and a showcase spot at the Folk Alliance Festival in Memphis, Elbert is already making a name for herself. Her love of music from around the world, and distinctive combination of jazz, folk, soul, blues, and pop creates a sound that engages the hearts, minds, and ears of listeners around the globe. Emily blends a hip musical perspective with an in-depth knowledge of classic favorites to create unique vocal and guitar arrangements.
Cincy Groove: What kind of music was playing in your house when you were growing up?
Emily Elbert: My dad is a killer pianist, and he introduced me to a lot of different styles – one of the ones that comes to mind first is Brazilian jazz, especially Antonio Carlos Jobim. I love that guy. I cover one of his tunes at shows sometimes, Triste. My mom was real involved in helping introduce my ears to some nice things – James Taylor is a big one, and I was real real into oldies radio. Like 50s & 60s pop. My parents got sick of it I listened to it so much. Ha.
Cincy Groove: When did you first pick up the guitar? the first song you learned to play?
Emily Elbert: I grew up playing piano pretty competitively. But, being a middle schooler, I needed to rebel, and the practice schedule didn’t appeal to me too much. So dropped it for guitar when I was about 14 or so. I became totally infatuated with it. I think the day I got it I didn’t come out of my room for like 10 hours. I don’t really remember my first song, I just wanted to try everything. My first performance was at this retirement party for my school librarian. I played a Ben Kweller song. That was also the first time I sang in front of anyone.
Cincy Groove: Are you working on any new projects?
Emily Elbert: Absolutely. This summer is actually real weird – I tried to (almost) completely clear my schedule so that I could clear my head and write. Got a lot of new tunes goin right now, and will hopefully have a new album out by the end of the year.
Cincy Groove: Who are some of your influences?
Emily Elbert: I love Stevie Wonder, and Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon, and the Beatles. Also Bob Marley, Incubus, John Mayer, Hendrix, Aretha, and Jobim of course. I love 60s folk rock like CNSY. And funk and blues. And Bobby McFerrin. And there’s a new woman out right now named Esperanza Spalding, and she’s got the freaking Midas touch. Beautiful. I also flip for a good pop song. I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan, and I love Justin Timberlake. The guy puts on a stellar show.
Cincy Groove: What has it been like going to the Berklee School of Music?
Emily Elbert: Cool. It is a wonderful environment. Super happening, enlightened city, and all my friends are musicians. I’ve got this new trio I’m playing with too, my friends from school. We’ve got a whole tour crew, and it just happens to be my best friends. We do our sound, merch, press, everything. I love it. I’m excited about where I am right now. Geographically and otherwise.
Cincy Groove: When was your first live show you performed? Where was it at?
Emily Elbert: Aside from piano competitions, which helped get me comfortable in front of an audience, it was middle school. After that library gig, I played a lot at church stuff. Coffeehouses, that sort of thing.
Cincy Groove: What was your experience like touring with G Love?
Emily Elbert: Fun. My friends and I borrowed a car from one of their grandparents, and we drove from Boston to Rhode Island to Maine to Vermont and back to Boston in a weekend. Haha. The venues were awesome – especially Lupo’s in Providence. The Wood Brothers played on those shows, too, and they are incredible. The greatest guys, with so much soul. And I’ve been listening to G Love forever, so that was real neat. Cool to see how everything goes together.
Cincy Groove: How do you feel about all this recognition and attention you have been getting over the last few years?
Emily Elbert: Haha. I don’t know… I’m in LAX right now, and the folks next to me at Chilli’s said they saw me on a morning show in Austin. They were very nice; I enjoyed meeting them. It’s kind of cool. Everyone loves to feel respect from others – that’s great. I am very thankful for that. The pseudo-celebrity factor is a little funny, but I’ve got no problem with it. It comes with doing what I love.
Cincy Groove: Did you have a good time at the Folk Alliance Festival in Memphis?
Emily Elbert: Yeah, for sure. The guy that runs it, Luis, is real cool. There are a lot of great performers and songwriters there, and it is a little bit like a folk music circus/whirlwind type thing. Good music and good people. I enjoyed it.
Cincy Groove: I see your dad plays piano, do the two of you ever play out together?
Emily Elbert: He’s amazing. I’m not just saying that either. I hope to be half the musician he is some day. We’ve played at church a couple of times, done a couple of recordings. He played on two tracks of my CD, Bright Side, in fact. I’d like to do more with him, though – thanks for the reminder.
Emily Elbert Trio:
Emily Elbert – voice, guitar
Tim Luckow – bass
Davis Rowan – drums
Upcoming Emily Elbert tour dates:
For complete show details visit http://www.myspace.com/emilyelbert
Jul 18 2008 KE Cellars Tyler, Texas
Aug 1 2008 Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse Dallas, Texas
Aug 2 2008 Kiepersol’s Harvest Fest Tyler, Texas
Sep 14 2008 Boston Folk Festival Boston, Massachusetts